Budget travel. It’s one of the most powerful buzzwords in the travel industry. And for the vast majority of bloggers and travelers using the word to describe themselves, it’s an absolute, bold-faced lie.
Screeeeeeeeech! The brakes are full-on. Red flags are up. Egos have been bruised. Defensive systems are engaged from the so-called budget travelers out there.
Here’s the thing. Your budget ain’t my budget. My budget isn’t your budget. The budget of a traveler from Mexico isn’t the same as the budget for a traveler from Spain. The budget for someone who works online and makes 3k a month isn’t the same as someone who saved up for three years and is traveling around the world without any income coming in. Person A, B, C, D, E, F, and G all have different personal spending habits, jobs, income levels, desired levels of creature comforts, and overall cost-per-day levels.
For Bob, 500 dollars a month is expensive. For Erica, 1500 a month is her cut-off point. For Roger and Mary, 3,000 dollars per month is their budget cap. The numbers vary wildly across the board, but one thing remains true no matter which blogger you are talking about: none of them are you.
I get it. Blogging about budget travel has been, and continues to be, a “hot topic”, and trendy. And it can absolutely establish you in a certain niche, with a certain audience of readers whose budgetary restraints fit within your particular bubble.
But at the end of the day, your budget is unique to you, and your personal level of comfort + earning ability/financial situation. Your desire to sleep in a run-down hostel with spotty WiFi and no hot water is nowhere near my desire for solid Internet, hot water, private commode, and quiet when I sleep. And your need to travel on 15 dollars a day or less isn’t going to be the same as someone’s need for 12 dollars a day or less or 25 dollars a day or 50 dollars a day or 45 dollars a day or who-gives-a-shit-because-I-make-enough-money-to-travel-the-world-without-stressing-over-the-costs person who has a stable online job that allows them the ability to go where they want, when they want.
Recently, I was reading a blog where the couple in question talked about how the food in Oaxaca was “bad”. The best part of the article was when they went on to explain in greater context what they meant, because Oaxaca is reputed to have some of the best cuisine in Mexico. As their article detailed, they are vegeterians. The people of Mexico are largely not, and the food in Oaxaca is primarily meat-based.
The point being, they made sure to reference the fact that while for them the food was bad, and the experience was not what they expected, they also were aware that their experience was jaded by their limitations. That is, what was “correct” for them was not necessarily going to be the same for everyone else, not even their readers.
It’s a great habit to get into, and one that far too many bloggers avoid. Instead, they tout their budgetary reports as if they are fact, when instead they are largely based on opinion and the personal limitations of the blogger(s) in question. Some people are traveling on 20,000 USD and need it to last two years. Others are traveling with a day job and can spend 100 dollars a day. Others can’t break 15 dollars a day.
The worst are the so-called kings and queens of budget travel off in the remote corners of the undeveloped world where dollar-a-day street food and 150 dollar a month apartments are supposedly things which establish someone as worthy of Business Insider or CNN Money. But let’s be honest: most of these folks aren’t masters of budgets. Instead, they are traveling on an extremely limited amount of funding and need to be able to exist on the barest scraps possible in order to make those dollars last as long as possible.
Now, technically, that’s “budgeting” in its most basic form: getting the most out of your money. But it’s not the sum total (see what I did there?) of what budgeting is all about. Especially if we’re talking about people who are supposed to be the masters of the craft.
The real reason for budgeting isn’t only to eke out an existence on the lowest amount possible. Instead, it’s all about using budgeting as a means to make a better life for yourself, to leverage financial planning as a means to increase your financial stability.
This is where selling all of your shit, sticking your money in the bank, and then heading out to travel the world for two years with no other plan than “I want to see the world and exist on 15 dollars a day or less” doesn’t equal financial planning, but rather financial naivete.
As a reader, your best course of action isn’t to look for someone blogging about budgeting but whose resume lacks anything other than “traveling the world while spending my savings”. Instead, you should be looking for those who are actively supporting themselves working while traveling.
And I don’t mean landing the occassional sponsored gig here and there for a couple of nights at a hotel. Look for the bloggers who have an actual resume of clients that support their full-time travels. Because the budget travelers whose opinions matter, regardless of what level they are at or what budget they are promoting, are the ones who aren’t merely living off their savings, but are instead leveraging financial expertise to enhance their lives, increase their businesses, and use financial planning as an actual strategy for increasing their wealth, not merely traveling for the lowest costs possible.
But more than anything else, realize that folks talking about budgeting just for the sake of a buzzword aren’t worth listening to merely on the fact alone. Dig deep. Look into who those bloggers are professionally. Who do they work for? What are their reputations as far as clients go? What are some of their past successes? Speaking gigs? Professional testimonials?
If their only claim to fame is “I sold my shit to travel the world”, that’s the first sign you should be looking elsewhere for financial advice. Don’t be fooled by pretty pictures and videos of exotic locations, because with today’s tech any monkey with a cell phone can upload adventure shots while on location. Go deep, and figure out whether or not the information they are giving you is worth a damn.